Sunday, June 17, 2007


Several centuries ago, Thomas Hobbes, one of the first political scientists, posited that governments, that is, monarchies and other arrangements, are necessary because humans would otherwise live a "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" life in their "battle of each against all". We are bloodthirsty demons that seek to conquer and dominate. Only a strong, stable government like the kind a ruthless tyrant brings allows peace to exist, at least for a short time. With this reasoning, monarchies and other autocratic governments were championed.

For some strange reason, a whole lot of people really feel this is the case, often without actually being aware of Hobbes. One could say that's because it is how we are, but I am of the mind that the meme has so permeated our society, the excuse used so often, that it becomes a "given", of the type not to be questioned.

Humans are not all one way or all another. There is a great capacity in us to do great things for ourselves and others, and an (almost) equal capacity to do just the opposite. We are the products of our environment. Raise a child to be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" (well, maybe you can't raise it to be short), prepare it for the "battle of each against all" and you'll end up with an adult that lives a "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" life of fiercely battling each and all.

There is something very wrong with this premise, and it is necessary to dismantle it before another point can be made. Humans evolved in groups. There was not a time when humanity was so scattered and diverse that meeting another human came about by chance or always ended in violence. Villages did not form as a result of the loss of arable land or for protection from marauding solitary savages. We evolved to live and interact and yes, cooperate in groups, and have been in groups since we evolved our way out of the jungles of Africa.

Cooperation is necessary for our survival. Ayn Rand missed this part of it, and had humans (d)evolved to be like what she would have wanted us to be, we would each have scales, claws and a three-chambered heart. Because we evolved to work together, we would have needed some sort of structure to maintain cohesion and perform functions as a large body. Anthropological studies have shown that humans grow their societies around certain biologically-determined size limits, around 150 members. This is also about the same number of people you can get to know and remember. Also around the number of people direct democracy works to any great extent. As I have suggested before, I believe humans are inherently democratic creatures that value the success of themselves and of the group mutually.

As to the structure of this kind of society, government, if it could be called that, was based on input from the group. Sure, there was probably the wise-man or the shaman, and maybe even an executive chieftain of some sort, but I doubt it would have made sense for some brutal tyrant to subjugate 149 people and force them to do things against their will. Common attitudes and concerns would keep the group members focused on pertinent matters. Such a hypothetical setting would allow us to use the term anarchy - without rulers - to describe it.

Notice there is no inclusion of the need for bloodshed, violence, or destruction. The word does not suggest these things, but the actions of previous anarchists do. (I will not address the topic of violence in anarchy in this post because it will take too long.) If we refine that definition: without rulers, to mean: without illegitimate authority and unnecessary (and artificial) hierarchies, we now have a meaning we can use. Notice also that the need for authority is ever-present,
Does it follow that I reject all authority? Perish the thought. In the matter of boots, I defer to the authority of the boot-maker. -Mikhail Bakunin
just not illegitimate authority. Scratch religion off the legitimate list. Seniority is also a poor basis. Might does not make right. Artificial positions of authority in unnecessary hierarchies are anathema to democracy, to freedom, and to equal opportunity. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is why anarchy is called "the first cousin of democracy", and why if you are a (true) anarchist, you must favour democracy, but it need not be the case that if you favour democracy, you advocate anarchy.

Anarchy is often the base word of some hyphenated longer word. "Anarcho-syndicalism" (click play below), for example, is a particular branch of anarchist thought.

In recent years, it has become trendy for young, right-libertarians to spice up their usual advocacy of capitalism with opposition to the state, which, in our politically ignorant climate, they have termed "anarchy". (Never mind that anarchy existed in the way we defined it above well before these posers ever came along.) Of course, what they very often mean by "state" is taxes and social services, and what they mean by "anarchy" is not having to pay or support them.

I have previously defined capitalism, so will not do so again here in any detail, only the extent that is necessary to examine it using our new lens of anarchy. Capitalism is the relationship between those who own the means of production and those who don't; the latter must sell their labour to former. I won't go into how this arrangement came about (read the link), but suffice it to say that there is no legitimate reason why one group of people should have exclusive control over a tract of land or a large industrial machine, etc. and the hierarchies that develop along these patterns of arbitrary ownership are indeed unnecessary and artificial.

There is this idea that the "state", as an agent foreign to the "market", needs to step in to fix problems caused by the vagaries of its unruly counterpart. The "market" is where you get to do battle against everyone else, and the "state" is what gives everyone a fighting chance, and ensures that what you earn in battle is not taken by someone else. There is no reason for a rich old white man (yes, he is likely male and white, as there are historical reasons for this) to put a bunch of barrio kids through school. None. So the benevolent nature of humanity creates, through its use of representative democracy, a social machine that redistributes wealth. There is a very good reason the rich old white man would want police forces, and possibly even a large military, because these tools are probably at his disposal, and exist to satisfy his evil purposes.

So it should come as no surprise that "anarchy" and -capitalism were stuck together to sound like a really great idea: anarcho-capitalism. The full potential of humanity is reached by interactions in the marketplace unrestricted by the state. The greed of each mitigates the greed of all. Sure. Instead of advocating something worthwhile, something that makes sense, "anarcho"-capitalists stick two contradictory ideas together.

There are several reasons why the term amounts to a dog chasing its own tail:

1. Capitalism necessarily forms unnecessary hierarchies and allows artificial positions of authority.

2. Capitalism undermines democracy by concentrating wealth (and thus power) into the hands of a few. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

3. Most early anarchist thinkers were decidedly socialist, and all were anti-capitalist, because the whole idea of anarchy came about as a response to capitalism. They are spinning in their graves at the term "anarcho"-capitalism.

There are some variants to the idea that also need to be addressed. One such cultivar would be advocating reducing taxes, dismantling social programs, while maintaining a state-organized military. The military industrial complex (MIC) is presently the recipient of about half of all taxes collected. Social programs, although by no means pinnacles of human endeavor, still offer some benefit to society, and may actually grant some of the less fortunate members a way to pull themselves out of poverty. The MIC sucks resources into costly wars and destructive endeavors. Not only that, but any taxing power of the state is made possible by the threat of violence, made possible by, yup, you guessed it, the MIC. Even if the dog does catch its tail, it will still be going around in circles.

Advocates of "free" market "anarcho"-capitalism suggest that the market would serve as a source of justice and security in a stateless society. I like to call this "neo-feudalism". Private firms that offer police and security services will obviously be bought out by those with the most money. Profitable justice is not blind justice. There are other concerns that I often consider:

Suppose the gummint did not meddle with the market any more, and drugs were legalized (I certainly advocate the decriminalization of marijuana), including crack and meth. In a "free" market, these goods will be as legitimate as any other, so long as those selling and those buying don't use force or coercion in determining price (this whole idea is utter baloney, which I will destroy in a few paragraphs). These substances have a permanent and debilitating effect on humans. They are also highly addictive. I'm not going to address the morality of unrestricted drug sales, what I want to address is the MESS this would make, and how it would be remedied in a society with private police and security, and even rehabilitation services.

It makes a whole lot of sense for someone to sell crack or meth. Highly addictive substances make for a great market. But why oh why would anyone want to rehabilitate addicts? A heavy meth user is burned out, a wasted shell of a human. A crackhead is equally useless. There would be nothing to gain from these poor wretches; all of their money would have gone to drugs already. How would the "free" market solve this problem? It can't. It will have created a problem it could not fix, because the means to fix it are outside its functioning goal: profit. What is more likely to happen is drug cartels will form, hire police and security firms to defend turf, and we'll end up with feudal states ruled by drug lords, media moguls, and CEOs of multinational corporations. No thanks.

(Think this is a hypothetical? We have privatised prisons, and the largest ratio [by far!] of prisoners to citizens compared to other industrialized nations. Addictive, profitable, corporate drugs are legit, whilst relatively harmless and unprofitable drugs like MJ are illegal. A fat talk-radio host can be addicted to pharmaceuticals, employ insurance fraud to get them, and be let off with little more than a slap on the wrist, whilst Marc Emery, Canadian seller of cannabis seeds, is looking at extradition and life in prison.)

There are premises to free market capitalism that I cannot accept. The source of my Y chromosome tells me I just don't understand what it is. This is as much for him as it is for anyone else who wants to know, and for posterity. The most glaring silliness is the stipulation that no force or coercion be used in price determination. When workers are required to sell their labour to someone else, this is the use of force. When consumers are limited to purchasing within their meager means, or, alternatively, when they are induced via commercials (or with the aid of credit) to purchase outside their means, this is coercion. The contradiction is ubiquitous and looming. Arbitrary patterns of ownership undermine an equal stance, and, since we know that absolute power corrupts absolutely (and as power approaches the absolute, so too does corruption approach absolute), the question of force and coercion was never satisfactorily answered by the introduction of the term "free"-market, it was just hidden behind a thin veneer of an ideal.

Another odd premise is the one that the "free"-market is a utility-maximizing and efficiency-optimizing machine, operating in a chaotic sea of market forces. This is often contrasted with planned, top-down economies like the USSR and PRC. The claim is that the invisible hand of the free market makes sense of the chaos out of the chaos better than the deliberate and visible hand of the state (often the erroneous definition of socialism). Two points to address here:

1. The "invisible" hand is quite visible when we consider the basis of value and of price determination in a "free" market economy: profit. We can see the arm of the visible hand and notice that it is attached to the rich old white guy, who is really the CEO of a large corporation, and who helps orchestrate and plan large sectors of the economy. When the "invisible" hand is invoked, it just means we are unwilling to question the matter any deeper. To me, it amounts to god did it. (And yes, I have read Wealth of Nations.)

2. As we saw in number 1, and as I have explained before, because economies are the acts of many individuals, all economies are planned, because we are all making economic decisions. True, no one person can know everything that is going on in an economy, but computers are fast approaching this capability. I have previously mentioned Wal-Mart's massive inventory system that keeps track of sales in different regions and updates prices accordingly. Did you notice that? PLANNING! AHHH! In a "free" market capitalist society! The very epitome of capitalist success is (internally) PLANNED! (And, of course, the main beneficiaries are the ones who installed this system, certainly not the workers, nor the slave-labourers on the other end of the production line.) So, to all those who really, really believe that A) an economy is not planned, and B) that planning cannot be done efficiently and successfully at all: EAT IT.

Since all economies are planned, and it is really a matter of who does the planning and who benefits from it, the only real legitimate stipulation that a hypothetical "free" market has that could be considered worthwhile and actually come about in practice is the idea of "equal footing" in price determination. Of course, the practical side of it is horribly undermined by capitalism, which means "free" market capitalism is also a contradiction. In fact, socialism, an economy planned by society, for society, is the only reasonable way to even begin to bring about the conditions necessary for a free market.

This post was intended to dismantle ridiculous ideas, which, in my mind, are very much like religious dogma. It may also have been offensive, and was partially designed to be so, but know that it is the meme which is under fire, not the host. For them I have utmost pity.


Blogger Delta said...

"Anarcho"-capitalism is indeed ridiculous. It seems to me to be championed by those who, while perhaps in the back of their mind knowing full well that the state is almost entirely in the control of the wealthy, are still worried that the mere existence of a formal representative democracy threatens the hegemony of the current economic/political masters because it's possible that the majority could exercise some influence in the society's decisions. The capitalists need the force and violence of the state to maintain their unjustified position of privelege, but if it could be delivered by a private firm, it would be so much more effective in maintaining the social hierarchy. "Anarcho"-capitalists make the common mistake of taking the popular,dictionary definition of anarchy; that is, they assume that it's simply a society without a government (nevermind that a monopolistic corporation with a private military is a de facto totalitarian government). They don't understand that the whole point of being opposed to a "government" is that anarchism is opposed to unjustified hierarchies and seeks to promote a more democratic, enjoyable, and sustainable future for all mankind. Opposition to undemocratic governments simply follows from this.

The whole premise of free markets is a joke. Economics is supposedly the study of how we distribute and deal with scarce resources. Yet one of the fundamental assumptions behind many of the explanations that capitalists give for why it's such a great system is that they assume that anyone can enter the market and compete if the price gets too high. But wait, resources (and thus the means of production) are scarce! If someone owns the bulk of farmland and wants to charge me $20 for a loaf of bread I can't enter the market and compete with them if there's no farmland left.

19 June, 2007 00:44  
Blogger Mookie said...

It's those silly premises that get me the most. We accept them as fact but never stop to consider that there was a time before us when society operated differently. Historical materialism tells us all about this, but it would also explain the source of inequality and exploitation. So we're taught watered-down bullshit history and economics that glosses over the whys and wherefores and simply pumps us full of skewed facts and infantile justifications.

19 June, 2007 00:56  
Blogger Mookie said...

For an example of "anarcho"-capitalists, see this link:


Even better, it's xian! anarcho-capitalism. Because xianity isn't one big hierarchy, with god residing at the top. *rolls eyes*

25 August, 2007 11:12  

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